Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Indigestible Stew and Holy Piss: The Politics of Food in Rodolphe Girard's Marie Culumet

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Indigestible Stew and Holy Piss: The Politics of Food in Rodolphe Girard's Marie Culumet

Article excerpt

by Susan Kevra

Marlboro College

Depuis sa publication en 1904, Marie Calumet de Rodolphe Girard a suscite de nombreuses polemiques a cause de l'anticlericalisme du roman et l'audace d'un auteur qui osait parler du corps et du desir sexuel. Pour la premiere fois dans une litterature qui avait comme but de depeindre une belle societe rurale et catholique, Girard offre dans son roman une vision de l'humanite qui est bestiale, gouvernee plus par ses pulsions corporelles que par la spiritualite et la piete. Cet article se propose d'analyser le role de la nourriture dans ce roman. En etudiant des scenes de preparation, de consommation et d'elimination, nous pouvons mieux comprendre la hardiesse d'un auteur qui faisait une parodie du roman de la terre. Cependant, meme dans un roman juge comme outrageant, il y reside un sentiment de honte et de peur qui reflete une societe repressive qui ne permet pas a ses artistes de s'exprimer librement.

The destiny of nations depends on the manner wherein they take their food.

Brillat-Savarin

Lorsque la constitution est ebranlee, il s'ensuit parfois une revolution.

Girard

The roman de la terre sought to capture the essence of rural life, but while many a page extols the beauty of the sunrise on a field or bemoans the devastation of a killing frost, precious few describe the roasting of game or baking of a pie, and fewer still, the consumption of these foods. Yet, in the literature of an agrarian nation, one would expect to find a great many references to food and its preparation. This absence of the recording of culinary experience can be explained as a preference amongst early fiction writers in Quebec to focus on the heroics of battles lost and won. Never would a hero be shown in a compromising pose, engaged in the mundane but necessary acts of existence from which even the greatest hero and most virtuous heroine are not exempt. To do so would constitute a shift towards overly prosaic and indeed, if taken far enough, comic writing, a violation of the literary project ordained by Henri-Raymond Casgrain, who, in 1866, warned his literary compatriots of "ce cachet de realisme moderne, manifestation de la pensee impie, materialiste" (in Dionne 308). Instead, he called upon writers to:

couronner dignement le monument eleve par vos aieux, et d'y graver leurs exploits en caracteres dignes d'eux et de vous [de sorte que] vous elever[i]ez un edifice qui sera, avec la religion, le plus ferme rempart de la nationalite canadienne. (in Dionne 310)

Instead of producing the type of writing that would bolster these undeniably propagandist aims, Rodolphe Girard, in his 1904 novel, Marie Calumet, mocked rural Quebec society, with his harshest attacks leveled against the Church. Setting his story against a backdrop of rural life, Girard manages to create a kind of irreverent barnyard slapstick, delivering his punches and delighting in it. He does this, in part, by emphasizing food and scenes of eating and elimination, but also by including passages from the Cantique des Cantiques (Song of Songs), which, in spite of the fact that it is an Old Testament book, was included on the Catholic Church's Index of forbidden readings because of its sexual imagery rendered poetically, but evidently not opaquely enough.

So vociferous, in fact, was the critical reaction (which at the time meant clerical reaction) that the novel was publicly condemned and Montreal's Archbishop Bruchesi saw to it that Girard was fired from his position of reporter at the daily newspaper, La Presse. As if losing his job were not punishment enough, he suffered public humiliation in the pages of La Semaine religieuse which warned of the novel's "danger de perversion morale, esthetique et litteraire" and referred to Girard's writing as "des pages sottement et grossierement concues ... niaisement et salement ecrites" ("Un Mauvais livre" 87). Another Catholic newspaper, La Verite, under the auspices of Jules-Paul Tardivel, printed an equally damning response, referring to the novel as "l'epopee de la colique" while affirming that Girard "s'est jete tete baissee dans le plus abject realisme" (in Charlebois-Dirschauer 82). …

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